September 23, 2019 Articles

The MDL Factor: A Survey of Case Law Recognizing MDL

Docket management as a key factor in making rulings.

By Peter A. Meyer and Eldin Hasic

Over the last two decades, multidistrict litigation (MDL) has become a primary mechanism for handling civil disputes involving similar facts and questions of law. In fact, numerous commentators noted last year that, for the first time, cases consolidated into MDLs accounted for more than half of all pending federal civil lawsuits. While the burgeoning dominance of MDLs places an enormous administrative stress on the federal judiciary as a whole, its impact on the workload of the individual transferee judges responsible for overseeing large MDLs can become all-consuming. Faced with the daunting task of efficiently, cost-effectively, and expeditiously resolving hundreds—and sometimes several thousand—individual lawsuits consolidated before them, MDL judges necessarily find themselves reaching decisions in individual cases that they may not have reached if those cases were pending on their own outside of an MDL. Simply put, a giant docket of MDL cases is the proverbial elephant in the room, and judges increasingly acknowledge that the discovery and case management rulings they make in individual MDL cases have an outsized impact on the MDL as a whole, because they can affect the efficient resolution of the other centralized cases. Even where the ruling does not directly impact other cases, practically every ruling an MDL judge makes is observed and may indirectly incentivize (both positively and negatively) behavior on the part of parties and counsel in the related cases. 

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